Airships Overhead

by Robert J. Wolfson


In the summer of 1931, when I was six and a half years old, we lived in the less salubrious end of the Weequahic section of Newark. (At that age the 'half' is very important. It gives you seniority over those who are even slightly younger.) School was out for the summer, and we boys played in the streets. The girls played indoors, or in the yards. There were lots of boys in the neighborhood. There was no such thing as day care. Most of our mothers were at home.

We played all sorts of games---ring-a-levio, stickball, roller-skate hockey, football. One of our concerns while playing in the street was to avoid the mounds of horse manure. The street was liberally sprinkled with the stuff because many horse-drawn wagons came through almost every day. Hucksters selling fruit and vegetables, sellers of ice, deliverers of milk, rag collectors, small hand-cranked carousels---all operated with horse-drawn wagons. And the horses operated with oats.

One hot afternoon we heard a buzzing sound overhead. As it slowly came closer, we saw a huge silver cigar-shaped object in the sky. It was about a city block in length. Beneath the cigar shape there was a cabin with windows, and four engines with propellers spinning. The airship was low enough so that we could see crewmen, dressed in white, waving and calling out to us. It was the U.S. Navy's dirigible, the USS Los Angeles. It passed over and continued heading south, to the Naval Air Station at Lakehurst, in southern New Jersey.

Nearly six years later, in May of 1937, my family had moved. We were living in a more upscale part of the Weequahic section. Again, a bunch of us were playing on the street. We saw a large silver object in the sky. It was higher, and it was different. The tail vanes had swastikas painted on them. It was the Hindenberg, flying over our ninety-odd percent Jewish neighborhood. They were very high. So all we could do was shake our fists and curse at them. Imagine our shock and surprise when, a few hours later, we heard that the Hindenberg had crashed and burned at Lakehurst. We felt powerful.


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